Sean Connery wasn’t the first actor to play James Bond. Or rather in playing Jimmy Bond. Because the first time James Bond came to life outside of one of Ian Fleming’s novels, he was American through and through – he was an American from the 1950s, a time when, wow, you couldn’t be more American. On October 21, 1954, eight years before Sean Connery stepped into the character’s skin (and many years before Connery himself wrote the craziest script ever for James Bond), CBS aired a telefilm on direct that adapted Casino Royale and starring Barry Nelson, playing the secret agent as if he were wearing an invisible sling. The idea of this telefilm was that, if it worked, it would become a television series that would Americanize the adventures of the British agent for CBS (it was more a dream than a negotiation that was really happening in those years; , but four years later). It didn’t work (thankfully). Nelson’s James Bond was perfectly forgettable, but you won’t believe it: Peter Lorre was Le Chiffre, or rather a wonderful Le Chiffre. The pilot had a ridiculous budget (most of the money went to Lorre, who earned every dollar he could pocket) and it was a crude adaptation, especially for his attempt to turn the character into a Consumable franchise solely and exclusively by the American public. Perhaps the lesson of that failure is the biggest warning of what can happen if Amazon decides to convert now that it has half the rights to the character (the other half is still in the hands of the Broccoli-Wilson family). Well that one and what to put toothpaste ads like it detracts from the character’s glamor (if you do, make a good product placement and so are friends). The show was sponsored by the Chrysler Corporation, which paid CBS a whopping $ 43,287 each week for one hour of broadcast.
The first appearance of the character is littered with urban legends. The funniest of them all is that Peter Lorre, after Le Chiffre has died, after a reasonable time, gets up in Lazarus mode in front of the audience and goes quietly to his dressing room. This of course did not happen. What happens is that the TV movie that CBS aired in 1954 was mysteriously lost until in 1980 a kinescope copy was found and re-broadcast on television (on American TBS) showing that Lorre had not been resurrected in front of the Americans who one Thursday in October 1954 they watched with boredom James Bond come to life right under their noses. For more than two decades this version became the ‘forgotten James Bond’. The fact is that the critics struck down the telefilm when it came out, although it had its good share of action, the game of baccarat, against all odds, was well integrated into the story, with a magnificent tempo, which was shot live in front of of viewers and that it was a television product that had to integrate advertising breaks. And this first version had nothing to do with the films that Eon would begin to produce.
Keep in mind that this version is, remember, from 1954, which means that at that time there would only be two novels by Ian Fleming in bookstores: Casino Royale (1953) and Live and Let Die (1954). In the UK, Fleming’s novels had sold only 8,000 copies, so they weren’t much of a best-seller. In the United States they had suffered a similar fate, without exceeding 4,000 copies. So he was not exactly a successful author, but a writer with an interesting character and potential. Those sales explain why Fleming was willing to sell the rights to CBS for $ 1,000. In an article he wrote for a literary promotion magazine, Fleming wrote: “You don’t make a lot of money from royalties and translation rights, but if you sell the rights to series and movies, then you’re doing really well.”
The forgotten James Bond
The adaptation for the telefilm was made by Antony Ellis and Charles Bennet. Bennet wasn’t exactly a bad screenwriter. He was responsible for five fabulous Alfred Hitchcock spy movies: the man that knew too much, The 39 steps, Sabotage, The secret agent Y Foreign correspondent. The production company was Bretaigne Windust, seasoned in the theater and partly responsible for the success of Humphrey Bogart. I don’t think there is much to say about Paul Lorre, apart from his connection with Hitchcock and having given life to one of the great psychopaths in film history for Fritz Lang in M. The film cost $ 52,000 at the time and earned about $ 93,700 in advertising. Television critics did not pay much attention to it because they believed it was just another episode in an already boring movie series. Also, at the same time that Casino Royale aired, the popular Dragnet series was aired. And, you know, whatever gets you the most traffic! Oh no, there was no Internet then.
For the limitations it had, deep down it is not that bad. He could only have three settings: the casino, the hotel entrance, and Bond’s room. There was no possibility of changing clothes (which, beware, influences). Apart from the fact that everything had to happen in an hour, there were two advertising cuts that left him practically ten minutes. The adaptation kept the Cold War context, although Jimmy Bond worked for some kind of CIA and Le Chiffre was a Soviet agent reporting directly to Leningrad Section 3 from Paris.
The torture of the book in which Le Chiffre pokes James Bond’s (children, don’t listen) secret genitalia with a poker to remove dust from the carpets, is replaced on television by pliers that do not reach the area of the nacasones of Agent 007. Entertaining it was, but the format clearly didn’t fit the character. Hence all that roll that we have marked with a lot of eye to see what Amazon Studios is doing now with the jewel in the crown of MGM. Anyway, why don’t you judge for yourself. “I played James Bond as if he were American and I have no doubt that his later success was because the character was tremendously British,” admitted Barry Nelson in an interview long after the broadcast. It is worth remembering the James Bond that wanted to be a television franchise now that Amazon has bought 50% of the rights to James Bond. Prepare a Vesper Martini and judge for yourself. By the way, you’re welcome.
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